Building it yourself
This article was written after owner building the HEY House. We've posted it on our website because the experience was invaluable to our practice and might be useful to others.

  • Richie Willemsen
As an owner of land in Australia, you have the right to undertake limited residential building work yourself, provided you apply for an 'Owner Building Permit' within the state your are building in.

Depending on your previous qualifications, some states require a formal course to be completed before toy can apply.


There are many ways a residential project can be brought to life or 'procured' through construction. The normal avenue is to work with a qualified builder, and not be involved in site activities at all. Using a builder will arguably provide you with more certainty and allow you to look forward to the finished outcome, trusting that the construction work will be satisfactorily executed at an agreed cost and in a timeframe agreed upon by other parties.

The alternative is not to engage a qualified builder at all, and to become directly responsible for construction yourself, as the 'owner builder'.

This approach may appeal to you, particularly if you want to:
- be in control of the construction process and cost
  • gain hands on experience working amongst skilled tradespeople
  • understand more about construction


Owner building is NOT a profession, it's just an approval or permit that gives you legal right to personally build your home on land you own.

To qualify for an Owner Builders Permit in Queensland, you must:
  • have approved construction drawings for a single detached dwelling
  • be legally verified as the owner of the land (through a registered Land Title Search)
  • have undertaken general training (or have proven past experience) in basic residential construction management

The permit does have limitations. You cannot for instance:
  • undertake any electrical work
  • undertake any plumbing work
  • use the permit to build for others
  • re-apply for the permit outside a specified time frame

In Queensland, the QBCC will only grant you the permit every 7 years.

Once you have the permit, you must:
  • display a sign nominating your Owner Builder Permit Number and Contact Details on the site fencing for the duration of the build
  • setup appropriate insurances
  • disclose that you are the owner builder to tradespeople and any future buyer of the house once constructed


Being a successful Owner Builder is more about planning and management, than it is physically building things oneself. There are no expectations on you to get your hands dirty and physically build. Rather your role (like any builder) is to maintain a safe workplace whereby you manage the construction process.

Its best to rely on skilled trades as much as possible, and always organise and undertake physical work when it is within your limits.

For the HEY House, we got only got 'hands on' with:
  • basic wall setouts
  • brick raking, cleaning and sealing
  • labouring and cleaning the site
  • installing wall batt insulation
  • helping the carpenter lay the decking and timber flooring
  • digging holes, laying soil and turf, and planting landscapes


All houses (no matter the design) will need a:

  • Surveyor
  • Earthworks Contractor
  • Plumber
  • Electrician
  • Concreter
  • Carpenter
  • Roofer
  • Window Contractor
  • Tiler
  • Plasterer
  • Joiner
  • Painter

The way you select your trades is really up to you.

The most common approach to selecting a trade is to organise your documentation into packs of drawings and then send it to 3 trades for quoting. You then make your decision by weighing up cost vs reputation & experience vs pure gut instinct.

For the HEY House, the deciding factor for contractors was reputation and track record, rather than price. Quality and trustworthy relationships were vital, as we knew we would have to live with any poor workmanship and imperfections.


Once you have decided upon your trades, you are ready to start planning your residential build.

Most simply, construction planning can be boiled down to three factors:

  • cost
  • work
  • time

There are many tools you can use to visualise a construction programme, but for the HEY House we found a spreadsheet was the simplest and easiest software to help get our head around the planning process.

Think about the fixtures and fittings - anything you can buy off the shelf and install, like taps and appliances. Get the best prices you can for for these and 'lock them in'. Use the SUM function to automatically total everything. For costs you are unsure of, make an assumption and return to it later once confirmed.

Identify the units of work that need to be completed and have trades quote with a fixed price and timeframe for starting.

Sequence the units of work, so they make logical sense and fit in with a partially constructed whole.

Only start once you are comfortable with the cost, your level of involvement and timeframes involved.

For the HEY House, we had the challenge of having to maintain material integrity at all cost. This meant the planning needed to be rigorous and design intent understood by all trades to avoid damage to structural surfaces that were the finished article.


Owner building suits scenarios when you are building a new home and want be in complete control of the construction process and ultimately have 'the final say' on how the home is to be built, its timeframe for construction and the overall building cost.

Our experience with the HEY house was terrific, mainly because we were highly organised with our architectural documentation and planning, relied heavily on highly skilled tradespeople and knew our limits.